The circuit of ancient walls

The energy and manpower that the city threw into up grading and protecting the port, and the laborious construction of the hidden aqueduct of Eupalinos would have had no sense if there had not also been a closed, protective enceinte of defensive walls around the city. At many points—especially on the mountain behind the town—these fortifications are clearly visible and trace able for much of their total length of 6.4km. Only the southern sea-walls are not in evidence. Two distinct campaigns can be distinguished:

   1.  the earliest walls, erected probably in the 530s bc under Polycrates’s rule, were constructed at the lower levels in polygonal limestone blocks, and then raised above that level in fired brick and mud; they had few bastions, and mostly arched or corbelled gateways. Some of the stone for the western arm will have been provided by the contemporaneous excavation of the tunnel of Eupalinos; but most of it was obtained from the escarpments to the west of the Panaghia Spiliani­, where evidence of ancient quarries can still be seen. The defeat of Samos in 439 bc by the Athenians under Pericles led to the forced dismantling of this enceinte under the terms of the armistice.

   2.  the Hellenistic walls, reconstructed using the foundations of the earlier walls, were built again around 300 bc, under the auspices of Demetrius ‘Poliorcetes’ (the ‘Besieger of Cities’), this time in isodomic masonry composed of large rectangular blocks, often as much as 1.5m long. The enceinte was now endowed with over 30 towers or bastions (some square and some polygonal in section), which protected massive lintel-and-post gateways, which still preserve the deep slots for fixing the gates. In places these walls were later repaired during the 2nd century bc.

   Long sections of the enceinte can be walked—along the east, north and west sides over the hill behind the city. The two periods of walls and gates can be clearly seen and compared in the eastern sector above the port (reached by taking the left turn for Mytilinii­, one kilometre out of Pythagoreio, and continuing uphill for 400m until the road returns west to the line of walls). At the summit of the hill and down the western side (reached from opposite the Doryssa Bay Hotel) the Hellenistic work is relatively well preserved and displays more clearly the method of its construction: two parallel walls of massive isodomic masonry 3m apart, with stone and rubble in-filling. In the lowest reaches of the western wall, just above the old secondary port of Glyphada, which has now silted up and become an enclosed lake, a rock-cut ditch about 3–4m wide runs parallel to the walls 5m to their west (outside); this was left by the quarrying of the stone for the walls, and may have served coincidentally a defensive purpose thereafter. Most impressive of all is the well-preserved 4th century bc watch-tower in the northwest corner which stands to a height of over 10m, with the apertures and precisely draft ed corners typical of Hellenistic construction.

Samos Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island Group, Greece.

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